Monthly Archives: September 2009

TOS Crew: Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services

I was excited to see the products from Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services. As a matter of fact, it was hard to choose from the list of products offered to the TOS Crew. I asked for Write with the Best Volumes 1 and 2, as well as The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide for Homeschoolers. To be honest, I didn’t expect to get all I asked for, but the publisher was very generous and provided all three files.

Dealing with secure files

The folks at EDUDPS are not only generous, but helpful as well. Up front I’m going to tell you the biggest problem I had was the security protection on the files. The files are in PDF format, but enclosed within a password-protected security shell. I couldn’t figure out how to make the password work, but Theodore at EDUDPS sent email instructions that, followed step-by-step, allowed me to open the files. Another potential problem: You could only print out a file twice. If your printer burped or jammed halfway through a print job (which is what my printer’s doing these days), well… However, all you have to do if this happens is contact the publisher to get your print permissions reset.

Edited to add: Months later, I tried to access the files, only to find my permissions had expired. My advice to you: Print immediately and save in a safe place! (The publisher was kind enough to refresh our file permissions when I asked. Great customer service!)

Writing with the Best

The subtitle for the program is “Modeling Writing after Great Works of World Literature” — which is one of the things that attracted me to this method. You see, we’ve found modeling to be very effective in our homeschool, in art as well as in writing. That’s part of the beauty of copywork — copying models of good writing, which together with narration made up the bulk of our “writing” (I guess you could call narration an oral form of composition).

I had a hard time choosing between the two programs, Volume 1 and Volume 2. Looking at their Tables of Contents, I could see that they had some overlap, but there were some basics I wanted to cover, and Volume 1 was aimed at Grades 3-12 (meaning I could use it with all the girls), so I decided to start with Volume 1, designed to take 18 weeks. Together with Volume 2, you have a full year of writing, or you can stretch out the units, going more slowly, and complete Volume 1 in a year’s time.


The book is divided into nine units that build your student’s writing skills cumulatively. You start with descriptive paragraphs (object, place, character), then write a dialogue, and once you’ve had some practice with these, you move on to writing a short story, then a fable, using the skills you’ve already learned. Next you cover writing a friendly letter, and the final two units deal with poetry (simple rhyming verse and then something a little more involved, a ballad or narrative poem).

The lessons are short and practical. It’s clear that this curriculum was honed in real life, by use with real students. I’d say that this would work well for you if you (the homeschool teacher) are comfortable with writing and basic grammar concepts (parts of speech). The lessons use passages from classic works, like Robinson Crusoe, Wind in the Willows, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, and more. Suggestions for additional passages are included in the supplemental material.


The lessons are well ordered. For each there is a literary passage (reproducible) used as an example and also a background for exercises, such as picking out parts of speech, or discussing writing concepts. Daily objectives are clearly laid out. A typical lesson at our house lasts anywhere from 10-30 minutes.

Helpful supplements

One of the things I love about Writing with the Best is the supplemental material. Both volumes have pages of helps for both teacher and student:

– Three characteristics that make the best writing the best (we found ourselves coming back to this again and again)

– Proofreading checklist (reproducible) and answer keys

– Grading Criteria (as well as “Learning Styles Suggestions and Other Ways to Augment the Curriculum” and the introductory “How to use this book”)

– Additional literary passages (as mentioned above)

– Finally, the “How to Write Guide” — which I put into a separate reference binder, as it includes specific instructions for all of the types of writing covered in the course.

In Write with the Best, Volume 2, the lessons cover poetry (free verse), business letter, note-taking, summaries, and outlines, persuasive and expository essays, literary critique and book review, newspaper article, and dramatic monologue. Volume 2 is more advanced, as you can see from the types of writing involved, and aimed at students in Grades 6-12.

Pricing and Ordering

You can order Write with the Best, Volumes 1 and 2 from the publisher’s website. Prices are as follows:

Volume 1:
$19.95  e-book download
$22.45  printed pages (no binder)
$24.95  printed pages in 3-ring binder

Volume 2:
$24.95  e-book download
$27.45  printed pages (no binder)
$29.95  printed pages in 3-ring binder

To read more TOS Crew reviews of EDUDPS products, click here.

Disclaimer: TOS Crew members were allowed to select from a list of products to review, and were given access to downloadable e-books in PDF format. No monetary compensation was involved. Opinions stated here are those of our own family.

TOS Crew: The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide (EDUDPS)

I don’t know about you, but when I started homeschooling, I wasn’t looking at things from a long-term perspective. We started homeschooling, frankly, because it seemed the best thing at the time. We’d tried both public and private schools. Disaster. Homeschooling was a sort of last resort for our eldest, and yet… it worked. Our second and third daughters were born into a home educating family, and have had very limited experience with institutionalized learning. And now… the years of high school and beyond are staring us in the face.

This is where a voice of experience is welcome.

Enter The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide, published by Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services. The author, Jill Dixon, is a veteran homeschool mom, educational consultant, as well as national consultant for Home School Legal Defense Association. In other words, a voice of experience.

The Guide is a comprehensive and intensely practical book. You might call it a homeschooler’s course in Career Preparation (until I read the book I wasn’t aware such a course existed, but evidently it’s a required freshman course in some colleges to help students avoid wasting time and money), and as a bonus, completing all the activities in the guide is worth 1/2 credit as a Middle or High School elective.

This Guide really spoke to me because it is not typical of our culture, i.e. it includes a section on courses to pursue in high school if you are preparing for a career as wife and mother. Pardon me a moment while I throw confetti in the air, whoop in delight, and turn handsprings. Okay, virtual handsprings. The Guide is solidly based in Biblical precepts, honoring God and family above career and materialism.

It reminds me of my sessions with a guidance counselor in high school. (How I wish I had listened to him… turns out he was right, in his interpretation of my aptitude test results. But that’s a story for another day.) The Guide‘s 225 pages comprise a wealth of information, as well as forms for working out career choices, college choices (if college is right for your student), and high school course planning forms that will support and prepare your student for those choices.

Your student will begin with four assessments, with the results providing direction in career and educational choices. Planning high school courses is so much easier if you have a target to aim at!

This material dovetails nicely with a message I heard from Josh Harris years ago. He was talking about how “the teenager” is a modern concept, and how so many young people nowadays waste their teen years, playing, drifting aimlessly, instead of preparing for adulthood. His was a message of urgency and purpose: Time is precious! Don’t waste it!

The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide will give your student the tools to take aim at life.

The Guide is available from EDUDPS as an e-book for $34.95, or a soft cover book for $39.95.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of EDUDPS products here.

Disclaimer: TOS Crew members were allowed to select from a list of products to review, and were given access to downloadable e-books in PDF format. No monetary compensation was involved. Opinions stated here are those of our own family.

TOS Crew: Illuminations (Bright Ideas Press) First impressions

I’ve been playing around with the Illuminations Grades 3-8 files for a couple of weeks now (can September be almost over?). I’ve also received access to the high school files, but haven’t been able to make them work yet. The folks at Bright Ideas Press have been very helpful and I’m sure I’ll wrestle that one to the ground today as well.

First Impressions

I was shocked when I started to look through the Illuminations files for grades 3-8. I don’t know where I got the idea that this was merely a language arts supplement to Mystery of History–it’s much, much more than that!

Complete Curriculum Plan

Illuminations is, in fact, a complete curriculum plan, incorporating Bible and science as well as Language Arts (writing, spelling, copywork, grammar) and, of course, history and geography. You can take parts of the program, or adopt the entire plan and your school year is laid out for you, schedule and all.

Did I say “schedule”?

The program includes a 36-week (Monday through Friday) schedule, plus study guides for three books to read over the summer break following your study of Mystery of History, Volume 1.

You don’t necessarily do every subject, every day. The work is spread out through the week. For example, science occurs in the schedule on Monday and Wednesday, but you can adjust the schedule according to your family’s needs. (Some years ago, we participated in a homeschool choir that met on Mondays, necessitating a less crowded academic schedule for that day.) The schedule can serve as a check-off list for assignments, and includes page numbers in resources for at-a-glance planning and use.

Additional resources

Because this is a curriculum plan, if you want to do the whole program you’ll need to round up some more resources, including:

– a grammar program (a couple to choose from)
– a writing program (two choices)
Christian Kids Explore Biology
– English from the Roots Up
– Natural Speller
– The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide
– The Young Scholar’s Guide to Humanities
(free with registration)

Lesson plans are included for Christian Kids Explore Biology, English from the Roots Up, Natural Speller, geography, grammar, and writing.

There are also a number of reading books, both read aloud and “on your own”, that you’ll want to obtain for the Full Meal Deal. Illuminations contains reading guides for each of the literature selections, with daily assignments (writing, research and other activities) that help students interact with the reading. (I love the graphic organizers!)

Bonus Materials

Included in the program are copywork pages and several bonus e-books.

I’m out of time for this post (kids are sleeping in, and they shouldn’t be–I’ve heard someone’s snooze alarm go off twice, and now it’s ominously silent), and there’s so much more… for example, the planning pages with the literature list are interactive–you can check off the resources you plan to use, for a handy shopping or library list, or as you use them for a quick record of books read.

There’s a lot more to explore here, and I’ll try to keep you updated.

One piece of advice: If you’re planning on using Illuminations I’d build a little pre-planning and preparation time into the schedule, just to set all the pieces in place before you jump in and get started. It’ll be worth it.

There’s also a Yahoo group available, a virtual support group of homeschoolers who are using the program.

TOS Crew: Studypod Book Holder


I almost didn’t get to write this review. For a funny reason…!

When the Studypod Book Holder arrived at our house, I almost didn’t see it. You see, I opened the package and took out the box and laid it on the table (got interrupted–that never happens to you, does it?) to look at later.

I never saw the box again. You see, somebody (name withheld to protect the Youngest) in passing by saw the picture on the box and got curious. That Somebody opened the box, took out the Studypod, and decided that this was going to be hers. All hers. And nobody else’s.

She must’ve recycled the box (hide the evidence, perhaps?). I’m very glad she came forward when I announced that the Studypod Had Arrived and I Really, Really (Really!) needed to see the thing, to write a review. Otherwise, I’d probably be in trouble with the Powers That Be.

Happily, though, the perpetrator enthusiastically brought out the Studypod from hiding and demonstrated its function. (This kid is my junior engineer, who is known for taking things apart and putting things together, not necessarily the same things. She has an eye for function and good design.)

What is a Studypod? As you can see from the picture, it’s a book stand or book holder, made of sturdy plastic and metal. You can stand it up or lay it flat. It holds a book open to the page you want, and turning pages is easy.

She’d been using the device for several days, by then, and told me how well it worked. You could put a book in it (she showed me) and stand it up on a desk or table, so that the book 1) took up less space, 2) was safe from the occasional spilled beverage, 3) was easy to read at a distance without her glasses (she’s farsighted), 4) stayed open at the page she wanted while she was copying or drawing or typing on the computer. She showed me how easy it was to turn pages, and how sturdy the Studypod is. (Believe me, at our house, “sturdy” is a very good thing!) She also showed me how easily the Studypod can be folded into a compact space.

We began to talk about other possibilities, like using the Studypod to prop a cookbook on the kitchen counter, giving us more counterspace and keeping the cookbook open to the right page. (Youngest is an avid cook.) Studypod will hold books of all sizes, even oversized music or art books–we tried it, propping music up on a table, and it worked. I also pointed out the small netted pocket inside that you could use for pens, pencils, cellphone, keys, etc.

I should have known better. I’ll never get the thing away from her now. If I want a Studypod (and I do!), I’m going to have to buy my own.

The Studypod is available for $19.95 with your choice of three colors (black, pink, and blue). Click on the link to order online, see a video demonstration, or find a store near you. If you’d like black, gray or beige, order the Bookpod (essentially the same product with a different choice of colors). Buy two or more at the discounted price of $16.95 each when you order more than one.

(Believe me, you might just need to buy two or more, especially if you want one for yourself.)

TOS Crew readers can get $5 off with the coupon code TOSBLOG5.

For more TOS Crew reviews of the Studypod, click here.

Free resource: The Piano Student

Just discovered this resource (it was listed at Homeschooling with the Trivium‘s FaceBook). Here’s the description from the site (click on the name to open the site in a new window):

The Piano Student is a free music resource directory for piano students.  You’ll find the best free resources available on the web, including free sheet music, free printable music theory worksheets and games, free composer biographies and worksheets, and a variety of quick reference guides on music history and careers in music.

There’s still time!

The Old Schoolhouse magazine has been offering a $7.95 subscription deal for both print and digital versions, since Labor Day weekend. That’s more than half off!

Originally they were offering 2,000 subscriptions at this special price, but then they extended the offer to another 1,000. I don’t know how many are left, but as of a few moments ago (when I renewed my subscription) they were still accepting orders.

Go to this link for the print version, and this link for the digital version.

Second Tuesday: $2 Zoo Admission

Today is the second Tuesday in September. That means $2 admission and $2 parking at the Oregon Zoo.

If you’re celebrating Not-going-back-to-school Day, the zoo might be a fun and educational place to spend the day!

TOS Crew: Aleks Math, Revisited


It happened more than once this week: I found myself in the same conversation with other homeschool moms: What do you do for math?

We discussed the pros and cons of a number of programs. A few (very few) of the moms were happy with their math curriculum. Most of the rest had tried one thing, tried another, hadn’t found something that worked for their families.

There are two math curricula that have worked well for our children, but really just one of them works well for me. (Can you guess which one?)  Both of them focus on teaching math understanding and problem solving, rather than rote memorization of formulas. One of them required me to spend 45 minutes per lesson per student, something that became increasingly impractical–math was taking more than two hours of my homeschool day!

Our experience with Aleks started last year, with a free one-month trial. This was enough to show me how well this math program was working for our three very different learners, and without my spending over two hours a day on math. Oh, I wasn’t completely freed of all responsibility. Sometimes, especially in the early days, one or more of the girls would call me over during their math sessions, when they didn’t understand how to do a problem, even with Aleks’ explanations.

Fostering independence

Something has clicked, though, recently. I don’t know if they’ve learned more, or gotten more used to the interface, or if maybe it’s because Youngest’s reading has improved, or Eldest has had enough practice and repetition to help her get along in her lessons, but I’m not often called to work through a problem with a frustrated child, anymore.

To read about our early days with Aleks, click the links below:

Day 2 (first impressions)

Day 3 (possible bump in the road? No!)

Update (after settling in)

Aleks, for three different learning styles in our family

Quick summary:

Eldest, a struggling learner, benefits from the patient repetition she gets. Aleks never gets short with her when she’s slow to grasp a concept. Aleks provides immediate feedback; if she’s got the right answer, she knows right away. If her answer’s wrong she knows it, and Aleks will give her another chance to solve the problem, or step her through the problem, showing her how to solve it, and then offer her another, similar problem (though perhaps a little simpler) to solve. The program guides her gently through her math work, and she has a real sense of accomplishment as she sees her pie chart getting filled in. (See graphic below for an example of what the pie chart looks like: It’s a picture of progress!)

Middlest, quick to learn but easily bored, found she couldn’t take shortcuts or fool the program. (After reporting on this, I’ve been amazed at the number of people searching for a way to “cheat Aleks”. Guess what! The Aleks folks have probably already thought of ways to cheat the program, and have been proactive in plugging the holes. As a parent, I appreciate that.) After she buckled down to honest labor, she found she could make rapid progress… so she did.

Youngest, with an intuitive grasp of how math works, is the least happy with the program. She wants to go back to the math program where I sit by her side for 45 minutes. In other words, she wants to interact with Mom, not a computer. However, she’s been making steady progress with Aleks, and  using Aleks has actually given me more time to spend with her while her sisters are doing their math.

New parental tools

Over the time we’ve been using Aleks, and since my last review, the people at Aleks have continued to improve the program. One of the things they did was to conduct telephone interviews with a number of the TOS Crew, listening to our feedback and suggestions. They didn’t just listen, either, but made changes, especially in the features for parents.

Some of the new features I love:

– I can change a student’s password, order regular reports sent to my email, change the math level that a student is studying on, request a test, or create a quiz. Aleks will even create a computer-generated quiz based on recent topics studied, and provide results.

– I can see just what my students have been doing in their lessons. (If someone’s been on Aleks for 30 minutes, and only done one topic, then I know I have a problem!)

ALEKS has generously extended to the TOS Crew a one-month free trial for our readers. Just click on the link to get started.

To read more reviews of ALEKS, check out the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog entry here.

Ah, blessed rain

We awakened early to the sound of gentle, soaking rain. It was nice to lie in and listen to the sound. While I’m sorry to see summer go (yesterday was the last day the local pool was open, and we made a point of going), I love the coming of cooler days and a more purposeful schedule.

I’m also sorry for those who might be camping in the rain this weekend. We got our camping in a few weeks ago, with only one night of drizzle and the rest of the weather dry and pleasant, not too hot, and only too cold at night (I think we need to bring blankets next time, or get warmer sleeping bags).

But the cool, pattering rain this morning made me think of curling up with fuzzy blankets and sipping something hot: tea, or cider, or hot chocolate. Oh, and reading aloud from a good book, or watching a classic video, even.

Last night we watched the second half of A&E’s Longitude, a dramatization based on the book. It was very impressively done. Excellent acting, meticulous attention to detail, and a tremendous challenge of telling two stories, set over a hundred years apart, simultaneously. There wasn’t a lot of gratuitous sex (a couple of scenes gave me pause, one showing a man’s dissipation as he’s holding an conversation with the inventor’s son, while sitting at a table playing cards with three nude women, though scene was so carefully staged that only the adults in the room noticed the nudity, thankfully! Another scene showed a nurse and patient in bed together asleep. Hints, not outright flaunting of extramarital sex.). There was some blood and gore (a hanging, a beach strewn with drowned sailors, a flogging, a bloodless dissection with, again, the camera angle placed so that nothing was really seen).

My only other complaint, other than the fact that our 11yo was probably a year or two too young for the movie, would be that the background music was much too loud, at times drowning out the dialogue. We haven’t had that problem with other videos so I don’t know if it’s a problem with our equipment or with that particular movie.

Well, I think I’m going to log off now and take the dog for a walk in the rain.

I know I may get tired of rain, eventually, but today, it’s a novelty and a treat.

TOS Crew: Quarter Mile Math Deluxe!


We’ve been using Quarter Mile Math for years. More than a decade, actually!

If you don’t know what Quarter Mile Math is, here’s a quick description:

– math drill

– math drill that’s fun, absorbing, even addictive

– math drill going under the guise of an exciting race!

You have the choice of racing wild, riderless horses or cars. Sound effects include thundering hoofs or roaring engines (guess which sound effect goes with which kind of race…?). For every right answer, your speed increases. You run your first race against (slow) computer-generated competitors. Your score is saved each time you race and eventually you end up racing against your own best scores in that particular topic.

Many topics… from Kindergarten through Grade 9

As to topics… there are oodles of them. The list of topics included in all three levels of the program is as long as my arm, twice as long, actually, as it takes up a double column on two sides of a legal-sized sheet of paper. You begin with basic keyboarding, finding numbers and letters and learning to punch them in. Then you start in on the math. There’s not only the basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables, but counting, exponents, squares, mean/mode/median, bases 2 and 16, fractions, decimals, percents, estimation and rounding, strategies, integers, and equations. Why, for little ones there are even alphabet drills!

The breakout of levels is like this:

Level 1: Grades K-3
Level 2: Grades 4-6
Level 3: Grades 6-9

Buy individual or combined levels

You can buy individual levels of the standard Quarter Mile Math for $39.95 each, combined levels 1-2 or 2-3 for $64.95, or all three levels bundled into one package for $89.95. That last, the three bundled levels, is what we bought years ago, and it has served us well for years.

Increased speed and confidence

Our eldest had a lot of learning delays, and math was her most difficult subject. I tried to make our flashcard drills interesting and fun, more of a game than drudgery, but it involved both of us playing together, and frankly, when her next little sister came along I didn’t have as much time for drill. That was one reason we bought Quarter Mile Math.

What we weren’t expecting was that she’d actually enjoy this kind of math drill so much that she’d play well beyond our established “math practice time.” She enjoyed beating the computer-generated racers, and as she practiced she improved. She saw on the screen (in concrete terms) her own improvement as she won race after race, even against her previous personal best scores.

This challenged child who struggled with remembering flash cards, at the end of a month of playing Quarter Mile Math a little each school day, could beat me in adding multiple digit numbers! It wasn’t long before she was beating me in multiplication as well. What a boost of confidence!

And now… the Deluxe version

The Deluxe version adds a new layer to this award-winning software. This version is available by subscription. You download the program (order an optional CD backup if you wish) to your computer and activate with the code provided with purchase.  If you have multiple computers with broadband or DSL access, your students can race each other! Barnum Software even encourages grandparents to download the software and race with their grandchildren, for added excitement and interest on the students’ part. This is truly a family endeavor!

Some advantages of the Deluxe over the Standard version:

– real-time tournaments

– can be used on more than one computer at the same time

– reporting: parents can see at a glance all the topics in which a student has practiced (“Tommy, it’s time to get off the 0-times tables and start working on 1×1 through 10×10…”), the student’s progress over time, the number of races completed in each topic, and the number of correct answers daily, plus grand totals of races and right answers

No student access to internet

While the Deluxe version requires internet access (Barnum Software keeps track of scores, which is what makes tournaments and the extensive report features possible), this connection runs in the background while the student is using the program. In other words, the student does not directly connect to the internet while playing Quarter Mile Math. The student sees only the Quarter Mile Math window and features.

Flexible Deluxe pricing

Barnum Software has just introduced reduced subscription prices. You can subscribe month-to-month for $2.95 a month, or buy an extended subscription at a reduced price:

$19.95 per family for a year (save $15.45 over a year)
$34.95 per family for two years (save $35.85)

Choosing between Standard and Deluxe

The Deluxe version is really a subscription–you download the program onto your computer, but it only runs as long as the computer is connected to the internet.

If you don’t have a reliable internet connection, you’ll want the Standard version.

If you’re going to be using the program for years and years (as we did), it might be cost effective to order the full Standard package, which will serve any number of children as they progress through the levels over the years. We’re still using the program with our younger girls! If you do the math, you’ll see that six years subscribing (three two-year terms) is somewhat more than the cost of the complete Standard version.

On the other hand, if you want to “try before you buy” and you have a good internet connection, you might want to subscribe to the Deluxe version to see how well it works for your family. If you need the extra accountability that Deluxe affords you, or you like the idea of real-time tournaments (or having all your students do math in the same time slot on the schedule, simultaneously, without having to purchase a CD for each), Deluxe is a good option.

Website extras

Barnum Software has just added a new section to the Quarter Mile Math website, especially for homeschoolers. Here you’ll find videos, information on getting started, instructions for getting the most out of the program (including how to use the program for tournaments in both the Standard and Deluxe versions), and information on math learning in general and the science behind the success of Quarter Mile Math.

There also is a forum in the works where you will be able to read others’ ideas and impressions and share your own. In addition, you can find links to reviews and testimonials from homeschool parents like yourself.

Great customer service

A phone call to the Barnum Software number on the Contact Us page brought a same-day response and an edifying conversation. I was impressed with the knowledge shared and the obvious interest in helping students achieve confidence and success.

Final words

In short, I can’t think of anything negative to say about Quarter Mile Math. All our experience has been positive. That’s that.

Click here to order Quarter Mile Math, to read more about the product, or to see the publisher’s comparison of the Standard and Deluxe versions.

To read more TOS Crew opinions, click here.

System requirements:

For Windows: Windows 98, NT, ME, 2000, XP, or Vista.

For Macintosh: systems 8.x up to OS 10.4 with Classic. (Not 10.5, nor with an Intel processor.)